The Gattaca Option

Gattaca was a fun little sci-fi film from 1997.  The premise is that our understanding of genetics has advanced so rapidly that the Powers That Be can predict a child’s life outcomes with near-perfect accuracy.  So Our Hero, Ethan Hawke, is denied his dream of being an astronaut for the Gattaca Corporation because he’s unfit — “89% likelihood of a heart attack by age 35” or something.  These were The Clinton Years, remember, so the genetic testing is just the hook on which to hang some very Clinton-ish spiels on how good old fashioned Liberal pluck can overcome the Eeeeeevil Corporation in the end.

Have I mentioned that one of the defining characteristics of bad art is that it sends the opposite message from what’s intended?

Twenty years on, most Americans would love it if steely-eyed biotech could exclude someone, anyone, from anything,  Our Hero, Ethan, gets around Gattaca Corp’s genetic testing by hiring genetically-perfect-but-accidentally-paralyzed Jude Law as a DNA doppelganger — he carries Jude’s blood around in hidden vials on lab day, he wears recordings of Jude’s perfect heartbeat on fitness testing days, he even scatters Jude’s loose hairs and skin around his workspace to fool random sweeps.  In The Clinton Years, that was “the triumph of the human spirit.”  Nowadays, it’s practically paradise — corporations may be eeeeevil, but at least somebody acknowledges that basic Mendelian inheritance applies to humans…  a 2018 Gattaca remake would have both Ethan and Jude turn themselves in for promoting “privilege,” as the space shuttle triumphantly blasts off with a disabled, pansexual, transgendered Crew of Color.

The movie also offers some interesting slices of life in a future where, as the Heartiste types put it, “biomechanics is god.”  Ethan takes his new main squeeze, genetically perfect Aryan goddess Uma Thurman, to a piano recital.  At the curtain, the pianist throws his gloves into the crowd.  Ethan catches one; it has six fingers.  Uma casually remarks, “That piece can only be played with six fingers on each hand.”  Thus are the genetically suboptimal reconciled to their fate.

Reconciling the genetically suboptimal to their fate would have to be the #1 priority of any government that took human biodiversity (HBD) seriously.  The movie implies that genetic testing is only available to the middle classes and up — you know, the kind of parents who’d want their boys to go work for Gattaca — but twenty years on, it’s a mail-order business.  For every potential Gattaca astronaut or six-fingered pianist in our gene pool, there are fifty Deltas, and one hundred Epsilon-Minus Semi-Morons.  They must be managed.  I propose a thought experiment:

Section break!

Let’s stipulate that our Gattaca State has solved its legitimacy problem by amending the social contract, from “physical security” to “material security” — it’s legit, Commie-style, because it provides every citizen with a minimum level of sustenance.  Let us further stipulate that — resources being finite — when we held the big referendum to go Gattaca, our State decreed that henceforth only those people actually within the nation’s physical borders at D day H hour are citizens, thus legitimizing our Gattaca regime as a “nation.”

If that sounds like “national socialism,” small n, small s, to you… well, congrats, you’ve passed the midterm.   It’s the only way I can think of to legitimize a Postmodern State that doesn’t entail genocide.  And since “genocide, caste system, or both” are the only plausible ways to organize Post-Industrial human society, let’s go with the one with the smaller body count for our thought experiment.

Let’s take it up the genetic ladder.  You probably don’t have to worry too much about the Epsilons and Deltas; bread, circuses, and Soma should take care of them, combined (naturally!) with a China-style two-child policy.  (Put the birth control pills in the Soma to make sure).  The Gammas and Betas, though, have enough IQ on the ball to be dangerous.  In military terms, they’re the NCOs and junior officers to the Alphas’ generals.  Oh, hey, speaking of national socialism….

…well, no, that agitates people too much.  Let’s use the word kokutai.  Everyone loves Japan!  Anyway, the kokutai.  In a Post-Industrial world where the material basics are all provided for, you still need something for people to do.  Again, your lower ranks aren’t too much of a problem.  You can push them into “service” jobs, 3rd World style — buying something at the market in a place like India entails going through seven different layers of flunkies, because the store owner has to provide make-work jobs for his layabout relatives from the sticks.  Just be sure to properly indoctrinate them to be the best damn gardener or bellhop they can be.  Soma and sportsball will take care of the rest.

The higher-IQ types, though, will need a grand quest.  I’m thinking of something like a new and improved White Man’s Burden.  We could probably call it “Yellow Man’s Burden,” since the Chinese Commies love them some genetic engineering, but let’s go with Mission Civilisatrice 2.0.  There are whole areas of the globe overrun with Epsilons.  What better use of our Gammas and Betas than to go there, to turn the place productive in ways that the “natives” never could?  Think Japan in Manchukuo (kokutai, remember?)  It didn’t work out the first time, but that’s a bug not a feature.  The constant war footing that makes a kokutai a kokutai helps preserve the necessary hardness in what would otherwise be society’s vast muddled middle.  And, of course, any Alpha with bleeding-heart type ideas could always be “sent down to the countryside,” Mao-style, to “reconnect with the laboring masses.”

What’s not to like?

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4 thoughts on “The Gattaca Option

  1. Jay Carter

    Gattaca (1997)  The premise was that our understanding of genetics has advanced so rapidly that the Powers That Be can predict a child’s life outcomes with near-perfect accuracy. 


    I ordered a chicken and an egg from Amazon.

    I’ll let you know.

  2. Ryan

    You have an interesting point about art there. I enjoyed the film, good acting, interesting story, etc. But I kept being irked by the movie’s desire to make me see the society as a dystopia. Sorry, but the society in Gattaca is the most utopian utopia that ever topiad. Achieving anything like that level of genetic engineering is the best possible outcome the real world can hope for.

    1. Severian Post author

      I had the same beef with it. I kept wondering just what was so bad about Gattaca Corp. That they did the best they could to keep a guy who was living on borrowed time out of a multi-year space mission? Damn right you’d want the healthiest, most physically robust specimens of mankind you could find! The central conceit just didn’t make sense.

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